November Reading Update

As usual, I’ve been absolutely useless in updating Goodreads. But, I have been reading quite a bit, although more magazines, Medium articles, and non-fiction than reading fiction.

Both of the books I mention in this post I bought on Kobo (i.e. no affiliate links), and I must say, for the amount they cost, they are really worth every cent and more.

The magazines I got on Amazon, though, as Pocketmags did not seem to have them (usually my go-to for international magazines and specifically craft magazines). The other magazines I read were the ones that I actually work on* and that was more to do with work than leisure.

The Renegade Writer Library by Linda Formichelli & Diana Burrell

Consisting of The Renegade Writer and From Pitched to Published, I did not get them just on a whim (hint hint), but also as a way to learn more about the publishing and writing industry. Knowing that the two authors has been in the writing business so long is also comforting, as I know how quickly things change especially in the magazine world. (Basically there’s never a dull moment.)
I would say that this is really a volume you should look at getting if you’re a freelance writer for websites and magazines, or even just an occasional writer for these mediums, or you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer.

The Story Solution: Re-write Your Life by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

This is not usually the type of book I buy (except if it’s a Jon Acuff book), but I listen to their podcast almost every week — okay, sometimes I binge — and find that they really know what they’re talking about and have good advice. I have, over the past few months, struggled a bit with Life Stuff and got this book about in the middle of it all.

At the most basic level, it asks you where you want to be in your life. However, it doesn’t stop just there, but takes you through exercises, that also lets you figure out how to tackle getting the life that you want.

Magazines:

Piecework, published by Long Thread Media (Fall 2019)

Okay, how on earth did I not know that this magazine existed? And has existed for over a decade?

The magazine focuses not only on different types of needlework and sewing, but also brings you a lot of history about the different crafts, the culture surrounding them, etc. It’s the magazine I never knew I always wanted. It’s one of the few magazines that I can picture myself reading in one sitting and then reading again immediately in case there’s a detail that I missed.
The articles are of a very high quality, and so is the beautiful projects that is featured in the issue. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

The Simple Things, published by Iceberg Press (October 2019)

Another magazine I had no idea existed, this issue of The Simple Things reads to me like a cross between Breathe and something like Woman & Home. I’ve yet to page through some of the back issues, but I can say that this can also go on my TBR pile.

Which books or magazines are you reading at the moment? I would love to know!

* I work for a South African publisher of 11 magazines, on the advertising side of things, as a copywriter.

Thoughts on Books: The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession

The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, by Edmund de Waal, London, Chatto & Windus.

“Other things in the world are white but for me porcelain comes first,” Edmund de Waal notes in The White Road. He also states: “White is also my story. From my very first pot.”A potter and a writer, follows the journey and history of porcelain through the centuries in this book.

I picked The White Road up — okay, I clicked on the cover (but that is so much less Romantic) — while doing research for the novel Porselein (Porcelain).* Little did I know what a gem it was that I would soon hold in my hands. It’s one of those Kindle books that I really want a physical copy of in order to really feel the pages, smell the ink, and pass it on for others to read. But I digress.

The history of porcelain turned out to be much more interesting than I had imagined. Of course I knew that porcelain was made in China originally, but the pure obsession that came with it I had no idea of.

The book is divided into seven parts:

  • A prologue: Jingdezhen — Venice — Dublin
  • Jingdezhen
  • Versailles — Dresden
  • Plymouth
  • Ayoree Mountain — Etruria — Cornwall
  • London — Jingdezhen — Dachau
  • London — New York — London
The White Road by Edmund de Waal

Throughout the book we meet people from different walks of life, learn about those in history that not only brought porcelain to the West, but also tried to reproduce it. We meet those who’s obsession with porcelain and the making thereof went too far. Even De Waal’s own obsession with and love for the white clay is shown through the artworks that he makes.

But it’s not just the content of the book that makes it such a thrill to read; it is also De Waal’s superb writing. Through his writing you truly sense that you are right there with him. Of course, the reproduced pages of Père d’Entrecolles’ letters on Chinese porcelain from 1722 was the illustration I most poured over, but there were also sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs that I read and reread simply for the beauty of the words.

I think that, if someone has an interest in global history, travelogues, or even biographies and autobiographies, they will find this volume as intriguing as I did. No wonder it is a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller.

To buy your own copy of The White Road, you can click here for Kindle and here for Kobo. An audiobook is also available on both Audible and Kobo — and I’m really considering getting it as well!(Please note that these are not affiliate links.)

* Porselein will be an Afrikaans novel. 

Thoughts on Books: The Myth & Magic of Embroidery

The Myth and Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

The Myth & Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

“From ancient times, embroidery and other textile arts have been associated with myths and legends, fables and fairy tales, high drama and folklore, from Ancient Greece to modern Europe. This book explores the use of embroidery in such rituals. The Myth and Magic of Embroidery contains embroidered pictures inspired by nature, including plant life, animals, landscapes and sacred places from many origins such as Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Old English. Each chapter contains an adaptation of a legend or fable with illustrations taken from the author’s own workbook. The book includes detailed working methods and new design techniques, such as the transformation of traditional ethnic stitches and the translation of designs from ceramics and architecture into motifs for embroidery, enabling the reader to create stunning embroidery pieces of their own.”

I got this book in grade 8 or 9 after completely falling in love with it at the local bookstore and staring at it, there, for a few months. It was the first time that I had seen such detailed embroidery and I was absolutely enthralled. I even did one of my “artist profiles” in art class about Helen M. Stevens.

The book has seven chapters:

  • Words and Music
  • Blithe Spirits
  • Earth, Wind and Water
  • Plantlore
  • Quests, Journeys and Battles
  • Animal Magic
  • Sacred Places

There are also two sections that show the basic techniques and a bibliography.

These chapters all contain myths, legends, folklore, and even history that link to embroidery, other needlecrafts, and the embroideries’ subjects.

It was also this book that first gave me the idea for a proper magic system based on embroidery — the magic system that’s present in The Ruon Chronicles (although it has grown and matured since then). The Myth and Magic of Embroidery, therefore, can be seen as one of the catalysts that got me writing (not to mention loving embroidery more).

Blog header image Worldbuilding Wednesday

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Worldbuilding From Small Towns to Entire Universes

Worldbuilding: From Small Towns to Entire Universes (The Million Dollar Writing Series) by Kevin J. Anderson

“International bestseller Anderson has created many extensive fictional universes, ranging from sweeping galactic empires to complex steampunk fantasies, to humorous monster-filled cities. He has become known for his skill in worldbuilding.”

I bought this book as part of a Storybundle writing bundle and I am currently busy reading it. What really pulled me to this book is that it’s Kevin J. Anderson that wrote it, and that it focuses not only on the macro or the micro worldbuilding, but on both.

Anderson not only gives lists of questions that you can think about and answer, but also explains why you should ask these questions and gives you examples from his own work. (Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to have read his whole œuvre to understand the examples.) This is exactly what I had wanted from the book, so it gets a five star from me already!

Worldbuilding: From Small Towns to Entire Universes  starts with “Creating Universes, Big and Small” and then moves on to “Everyday Worldbuilding”, “A Worldbuilding Ingredients List”, and more. Now, I must add that this is not some huge tome wherein Anderson holds your hand and basically gives you the answers you need. This book basically tells you: “Here are some bones, muscles, and organs. Now use your brain to do real-world research, use your imagination, and put all these together to form your own creature”.

I find chapter four (“A worldbuilding ingredients list”) especially helpful as I build upon the history and happenings of The Ruon Chronicles. It makes you focus on the most important aspects — like geography, politics, economy, and the arts — and how they will influence not only the culture that lives in that country, but how the countries around it would also be influenced. Focusing on these aspects is also a way to reel in your imagination to make the world as believable as possible even if you have strange creatures or alien races.

I would urge anyone who are interested in learning about building as-real-as-they-come fictional worlds to get a hold of this book.

Cover of Worldbuilding by Kevin J Anderson

Worldbuilding: From Small Towns to Entire Universes (The Million Dollar Writing Series) by Kevin J. Anderson

Thoughts on Books: Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

It’s time again at Storybundle for the writing bundle and the 2019 collection is, again, a great choice of books (and a lecture). There was especially one book which caught my eye (and that was the first one that I ended up reading); Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Writing with Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

As most of you know by now, I struggle with some chronic stuff, most importantly Bipolar (and everything that comes with it), so this seemed like the perfect book for me. The only other (writing) book that I’ve really read so far that really addresses health and that you should do what you are capable of doing and not run yourself into the ground is Crank It Out! By C.S. Lakin. (Okay, I know there are probably many such books, I just haven’t found them or read them yet.) Anyway, Writing with Chronic Illness has really helped me a lot already.

Rusch has divided the book into two parts; the first a bit of history about her own chronic illness and struggles and the second how she has been so prolific while her health has been anything but good.

What I really liked about Writing with Chronic Illness is that it’s not only written earnestly, but also in a way that says “You can find something that works for you as well”. Rusch knows that chronic illness is not an easy subject to tackle because she lives it. She knows as well as anyone that it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

One of the first things I did learn from her book, was that I really need to keep to my routine a lot more than I do. It seems once I get lost in my own mind I tend to throw bedtimes out of the window and that soon catches up with me. It then takes a whole weekend to get back into gear; which sucks, honestly. Unfortunately, a routine is a must for me — and not only to make it easier to remember to take my meds at the same time every day.

It’s five stars for me

In the end I have to give this small volume five stars for the earnestness with which it is written, and also for the no-nonsense way in which Rusch gives her advice.

Writing with Chronic Illness contains many good takeaways and pointers that you can use in your own life without being preachy about them. It’s really the honesty of the book that really struck me.

If you have a loved one struggling with chronic illness, this can also be an eye opener for you as you see how people with these illnesses need to make a life by working around the worst of the symptoms, etc. in order to keep going. (Sometimes this may seem to be the same as “keeping up” with the rest of the world, and, sometimes it may look as if the whole body and mind just checks out. And you don’t always get a warning of when that is going to happen.)

Some more ramblings

I must say, I also realise that I am in a very privileged position in that I am able to work full-time and still work on my writing. But, a lot of the time, it does seem that the world is moving at a breakneck speed and I am unable to keep up with such a pace. However, Writing with Chronic Illness gives me hope that I will not only be able to (in the future) spend much more time writing fiction, but will also be able to better handle my own Chronic Stuff while doing this. 

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Reading Update: Essays and Porcelain

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Essays

Uit die dagboek van ’n vrou, by Audrey Blignault, compiled by Marié Heese.

Originally written for Sarie (one of the staple South African magazines), these essays by a beloved South African and Afrikaans author gives a view into a life filled with happiness and pain and all the things and emotions that make up a life well and truly lived.

Audrey died in 2008 at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful writing.

(Sorry, this book is not available in translation.)

Porcelain

The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

Originally bought as a research tool for Porselein, I’ve quite fallen in love with this book and its beautiful, evocative language. It truly shows the ‘la maladie de porcelaine or Porzellankrankheit’ (“Porcelain sickness”) that takes hold of people who work with and collect porcelain.

It really is one of those books that you don’t want to read too fast as is informative without reading like a lecture.

It’s split into five parts, following the story of porcelain through the centuries:

  • Part 1 – Jingdezhen
  • Part 2 – Versailles – Dresden (where I am in the book at the moment)
  • Part 3 – Plymouth
  • Part 4 – Ayoree Mountain – Ekruria – Cornwall
  • Part 5 – London – Jingdezhen – Dachau

Thoughts on Books: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present

Book: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present: How to Retrieve the Lost Pictures of Your Past by Lois J. Funk

‘Memories are nothing less than bits of gold waiting to be mined from the veins of life.’ But, how to mine those bits of gold and turn them into stories that others will enjoy reading? In this nonfiction how-to, the author sets out a brand new set of writers’ tools to help you do just that.

(Here’s the first post I wrote on this book.)

Snaps, Scraps and Snippets really is a valuable book! And a lot is packed into its pages. Not only does Funk show you how to implement the advice given in the book, but there is also a lot of exercises contained within its covers.

I can see this book working for writers of both non-fiction and fiction, as you would also be able to see better what makes them tick.

Of course, the book is aimed at writing non-fiction – mostly poems and essays – and Funk gives many examples of poems written through the techniques explained in Snaps, Scraps and Snippets. I know that I’ll definitely be writing a lot more creative non-fiction now!

Photo by Elena Ferrer

Thoughts while reading: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present

Book: Snaps, Scraps and Snippets of the Past and Present: How to Retrieve the Lost Pictures of Your Past by Lois J. Funk (When I last checked it cost approximately USD6.00)

‘Memories are nothing less than bits of gold waiting to be mined from the veins of life.’ But, how to mine those bits of gold and turn them into stories that others will enjoy reading? In this nonfiction how-to, the author sets out a brand new set of writers’ tools to help you do just that. 

Another book I got from the Kindle Store, this one really started out as a “research” book for Porselein (in which I play around with memory/remembering/forgetting a lot), but I soon realised that it is the perfect way to learn some skills in writing creative non-fiction.

The book itself is divided into three parts; Looking Through the Viewfinder, Finding the Focus, and Using a Wide-Angle Lens. (I am only busy with chapter 3 at the moment, though, hence the title of the post.) Each chapter is filled not only with explanations and exercises, but also with examples from Funk’s own work which really pulls you in and makes you want to write yourself. They actually remind me of Audrey Blignaut’s essays that she wrote for one of the local Afrikaans magazines — which is a very good thing!

What I also enjoy about the book is that Funk let’s you focus on the “small” memories we all have. Those special moments that we remember that may not have been some huge event like a marriage or a death. Rather we are confronted with recalling those moments that we may have thought of as insignificant, but still have stayed with us for decades. Those memories of places and people who may not be in our lives anymore, but which still left an indelible mark. It’s not just for those who want to write a memoir, per se, but also for those who want to leave more meaningful behind than just digital detritus.

I’m sure I’ll do a proper review of the book once I’m finished, but, for now, I can only say that the book really is helpful and definitely worth what I paid for it.

Blog Header The Lives They Left Behind

Thoughts on Books: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic

Penney, D., P. Stastny, and L. Rinzier. (2008) The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic. New York, Bellevue Literary Press.

“This book is dedicated to the memories of the Willard Suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” — Darby Penney & Peter Statsny

I came across the Willard suitcases project’s website a few years ago thanks to another article which showcased some of the photos. That article, I am afraid, I have long since forgotten the link to and can now only speculate where it had been published. Nevertheless, the project had caught my imagination. 427 suitcases were wrapped in plastic as they had been found in one of Willard’s attics (a state mental hospital) and taken to the New York State Museum. These held the worldly possessions of patients who had lived and died at Willard.

The contents of the suitcases are both heartbreaking and riveting, leading one to question who this person was, how their illness cut their life short (or so it seems in many cases) and, more than once, made me say “There, but for Grace, go I.”

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om die goue blaar te sien in die somerson’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see the golden leaf in the summer sun

When I saw the book on Kindle, I knew that I wanted to read it. It wasn’t because they were some “crazy” people locked away, but because I wanted to know about the people behind the suitcase, behind the facade that seem to still linger over a person as soon as they are diagnosed with mental illness of a kind that severely impacts their day-to-day lives. And, boy, did some of the stories hit close to home.

What really enthralled me about the book is that the stories of the patients were the stories, really, of the everyman who has, in many cases, just seen too much — too much death, too much loneliness. In many cases what could now be treated quite easily with some medication and psychotherapy/CBT was basically still untreatable — the medication and treatments in their infancy, so to speak.

We learn of people who sometimes flourished within the walls of Willard to become a person that lived as well as they could within the confines placed upon them. And yet, we see in this view of a lost generation of mental patients many of the same things that still haunt patients today. And you also realise how far a little empathy can go. Indeed, there, but for Grace, go I.

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om in my oë te sien

Die son wat ek nou vir altyd bedek

Met swart vlinders’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see in my eyes

The sun that I now forever cover

With black butterflies

Extracts of “As jy weer skryf”, a poem by Ingrid Jonker, written in June 1964, and published in Kantelson in 1966, shortly after her suicide by drowning in July 1965 at Drieankerbaai, Cape Town at the age of 32.

Books about writing I’m currently reading

The past few weeks I’ve been reading quite a few books on writing — specifically how to write faster and streamline your writing. This is mainly because I’ve found that I want to find a way to write at least the initial draft of a story faster and learn how to better outline my stories.

So far I’ve finished the first of the books I’m going to mention and am busy with the others (I always read more than one book at a time).

(Just an FYI, these aren’t affiliate links.)

5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox

Although I don’t necessarily want to write this fast (I think my wrist will hate me forever and ever), I have found some good tips in this book regarding sprints, dictation (which is good for when my wrist is hating on me) and more.

With lots of exercises to get you going and helping you write faster, this was a good buy for me. I also like Chris Fox’s writing style and will look into buying some of the other books in his series as well.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (TheNo-luck required guide to self-publishing success) – The Smarter Artist Book 1 by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, David Wright

I listen to Sean, Johnny and David’s podcast and grabbed this book a while ago even though I’m only reading it now. I’m about halfway through and have found that there are some great tips to help you write, publish, and repeat. Great for those who are serious about making their living from their writing. I’ll probably have more to say once I finish the whole book.

Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, Revised Edition by Libbie Hawker

I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now as I started out a complete pantser, but boy did it mess up my “recommended for you” on Amazon for a few days, ha! Mind you, if I was someone who read a lot of romance and stuff it probably would not have been so obvious… Anyway, I’ve only just started this one, but really love Libbie Hawker’s style and voice. More on this one also once I’ve finished it.

What I want to read next:

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In a Distracted World by Cal Newport

I struggle to concentrate. Not so much that it is a huge problem, but I do find that I jump between tasks a lot during the day. And when I sit down to write it’s far too easy to “quickly” send a message or three, check the social media feeds, etc. So I hope this book can give me some tips to get myself again to a place where I can work for blocks of time (with or without the pomodoro technique) and not be sidetracked the whole time. I have the sample for this one at the moment, but haven’t bought the full book yet.

Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, writer better, and write more of what you love.

Recommended in some of the other books, so we’ll see how it goes once I’ve read it! Right now I can’t say much else about it except here’s the link, go check it out.

In the end, I know that reading won’t make me write faster, etc. but that exercises, and the like will. Sometimes you just need some pointers to point you in the right direction. So, if that is you, why not invest in a writing book or two?

Do you have a favourite book on writing? Please share in the comments below!